Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Falling In Love: Circumcision II

Matthew 22:37
Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'

John 14:15
"If you love me, you will obey what I command."

You might be wondering what in the world Falling in Love has to do with circumcision. Before you get carried away, let me try to explain.  A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about Freedom in Christ and commented on the topic of circumcision.  In that same post, I also discussed the tendency of Christians to become legalistic and rule-driven, rather than relationship-driven.  That post got some attention...and a desire from my readers to do a follow-up on the other end of that spectrum. 

And with these thoughts in mind, I am following up to that post out of fear of escorting readers to the other extreme of freedom.  You see, although I never want to come across as a legalistic, rule-based believer- at the end of the day I also not want to come across as a "do whatever the heck you want" kind of believer. 

So let me begin.  I typically don't pay much attention to Christian Radio.  Unless the song playing is by Hillsong United, I don't tend to give it too much thought.  But just the other day I was driving to work and this song caught my attention. 

Give me rules
I will break them
Give me lines
I will cross them
I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes
To sweep me off my feet
It ought to be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love

Give me words
I'll misuse them
I'll misplace them
'Cause all religion ever made of me
Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet
It never set me free
It's gotta be

There is something special about the words of this song by Jason Gray.  There is something special because it is emphasizing the importance of relationship.

And in my opinion, with relationship comes much bigger obligation than with rules.  Trust me, as a married woman, I know this to be a fact.  I have always viewed my the connection between relationship and responsibility in this fashion:

I love my husband.  And because I love him I do my best to do the things that he would appreciate.  I try to keep the house clean.  I bake him his favorite cookies.  I wash his clothes...and sometimes I even fold them.  I do these things and more because I am absolutely head over heels in love with him, and I want him to know this.  I have always thought about obedience to God's commands in this sense.  Purely, out of love.

Now, imagine if I came home from a long day of work to a list tacked on the wall of John's "Do's and Dont's".  Wash my clothes, iron my shirts, sweep the kitchen, weed the garden- and on and on and on.  In all honesty my first reaction would be: "REBEL!  Not doin' it.  No way, no how, no when.  Who does he think I am?"

The reaction would be entirely heart would sink in following his rules rather than thrive in doing these things out of love.  In a sense, that miserable list would take away my joy.  And I guess, there lies the key in all that I am trying to say today: LOVE.  Relationship.  Rules and Responsibilities cannot stand apart from those things, or at the end of the day they are a "stone tied to my feet".  And nothing more.

It causes me to really examine my relationship with God....because the moment the relationship is weakened and is no longer watered by love (And believe it or not, it's only weakened because of me...God usually does his part to keep it strong, go figure) I sink into a dangerous path of do's and don'ts that take away my joy and cause the seed of rebellion to begin to take root in my heart.  It's a toxic seed.  A seed that can quickly seep into every part of my being. 

So at the end of the day, the law still has a part of the picture.  And a good part.  But for it to mean anything at must be fueled by love.  It's more like Falling in Love than something to believe in. More like losing my heart, than giving my allegiance...It's like I'm falling in love.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Anne, this is Jesus. Jesus, this is Anne.": On Proper Introductions to Jesus

Mark 16:15
He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."

I met a woman today who didn't know who Jesus was.  "That dude with the tan skin and beard?" she questioned.

No clue who he was.  No clue what he wanted.  No clue what significance he had on world history...much less her very own life. 

I was kind of surprised by this response from her.  But more so, I was surprised by the fact that I had known her for 4 months and only now just realized that she had never had any exposure to God's love, for she had never had any exposure to Jesus. 

I guess it's hard to fathom that there are people in America who have grown up clueless to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I mean, I can understand the Bedouins living in the deserts of Africa or the tribes in the jungle of the Amazon...but, central Illinois? 

It was a sobering moment.  But it got me thinking.  There is a reason that Jesus specifically commanded the disciples to first go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.  I used to think that Jesus chose some random towns to send off his disciples.  But there was a strategic plan in choosing those towns in that particular order.  Sharing the gospel had to start locally before it went globally.  It had to start in Jerusalem before it could move on. 

Because, you see, the gospel spreads like wildfire.  It has to start in the center and spread outward if it is going to have the greatest effect on the world. 

Where is the center?   

Wherever you are today. 

That's all it comes down to.  Today.  The town that you are living in, the street that you are walking on, the job that you are working in....the people surrounding you on a day to day to day.  It has to start with them. 

It's great to have a heart for overseas mission, but in all reality, that heart is dead if it hasn't reached individuals across the street.  To burn with passion for the world, you must also burn with passion for your community.  To burn with passion for the gospel, it has to start with the small steps.  It starts with opening your mouth.  It starts with taking the risk.  It starts with letting go of all assumptions and wearing your heart on your sleeve.

I shared the gospel with this young woman today.  We spent a long time chatting about Jesus and answering questions about who He was and why He came.

There was no miraculous transformation at the end of our chat.  No crying, no hugging, no saying the "sinner's prayer".  Nothing dramatic.  But there was one small seed dropped on fertile ground.  One small seed that had never been there before.  One small seed that now has a chance to take grow. 

I may never know what happened to this woman, or the conversation that we had today.  But one thing I do know- Jesus was introduced to someone for the first time.  "Anne, this is Jesus.  Jesus, this is Anne"

And from what I know of Him, He's a pretty charming guy....I think He can take it from here. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

To Sleep or Not To Sleep....On Time with God

Psalm 132:3-5
"I will not enter my house or go to my bed- I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob."

You may have noticed the past couple of months my posts have been few and far between.  If I manage to post once a week lately, I've accomplished something.  Where as before, I had so many thoughts buzzing through my mind and emotions in my heart, lately, I have found myself struggling to find inspiration.

There is a reason for that.  Some would blame it on the fact that I have been working over-time lately.  Others would say that maybe it's because I am pregnant and have lost the energy that I once had.  While both of those things are true- the reality is, the busyness of my life has kept me away from the source of my inspiration: God.

I'll be completely honest- it's been a struggle lately to prioritize.  My husband and I are in a season of many transitions.  There seems to be so much to do during the day to prepare, and at the end of it all my earthly body cries out for one thing: SLEEP. 

I think that's why this passage strikes me to the core.  It's referring to the one human desire that we all long for and need.  Sleep.  But in this passage, the author has learned that though his natural desires may long for one thing, his spiritual desires must take precedence.  He learned to see his relationship with God with an intense desperation.  Something that could not be replaced or looked over.

Westernized Christianity makes this so difficult, doesn't it?  Our supernatural desires are covered up so easily by the natural ones...and there is never a loss for things that can replace our spiritual longings.  Our society thrives on giving us physical things to try and replace our spiritual needs.  Everything from our sexuality, to our stomachs finds a way to trump our relationship with God.

And we let them.  We let these things sneak into our lives and become our priority.  We let ourselves put God's word and His presence on the back burner, taking advantage of the love that we know will never leave us.

I am guilty of this, today.  I am guilty of allowing God to remain on hold until I was able to really "get things done".  There is a reason why I have lost my inspiration to post...I have no fuel.  And the most dangerous part of all, I have seen my spiritual starvation seep into other parts of my life as it has effected my attitude and my heart with the ones I love.

So, at the end of the day there is nothing more to say about this topic.  But, there is something to be done.  And I'm going to go do just that.

[For anyone that needs some ideas on where to start with a daily relationship with God, check out that link.  Also, there are some good links below:]

Daily Bread Scripture Reading and Reflection:
Oswald Chambers: 
Max Lucado Daily Devotion and Reading:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Circumcision...(seriously): On Religion vs. Relationship

Galatians 2:3; 6b
Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even through he was a Greek...

God does not judge by external appearance.

I'm starting this post was a massive disclaimer.  I understand that this passage in Galatians has a tremendous amount of theological implications, and I am in no way a theological scholar.  With that said, there is a part of Galatians 2 that has had tremendous effect on my life and has brought me conviction.  I share with this heart in mind. 

In Galatians 2, Paul is speaking to the Galatians regarding his ministry.  He is reporting the evidence of God at work in order to gain credibility from them.  With all the important parts of his letter, he takes time to focus on one major thing: freedom in Christ.  In fact, that small word is the foundation of the entire book of Galatians proclaiming that, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free". 

Paul was concerned that there were a group of believers who he called "false brothers" who were trying to take that freedom away by focusing their salvation on external acts rather than the heart.  So much so, that they tried to convince Titus, a Greek missionary who was traveling with Paul, to be circumcised

Paul was enraged by this, and saw this as a form of slavery.  Christ had set us free from the rituals and rules of religion, yet they were trying to impose the bondage of religion-based acts.  They were more focused on Titus becoming externally religious, than they were focused on his internal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sounds sadly familiar in a way, doesn't it?  How many times have we as Christians judged or ranked people based on their external appearances?  How many times have we let religion take precedence over true relationship with Jesus Christ?  How many times have we asked people to change their clothes, their piercings, their hair...their habits, their hang-ups, their addictions, their struggles....before allowing Christ to work in their lives?  We lead them into religion before leading them into relationship. 

I think many times we are the ones who get hung up on these things.  I think many times we usher people into the bondage of religion because it makes us, in some way, feel a little better or look a little more holy.  It's nice to have a little bit of "proof" that someone is changing, and so we look to external things for that proof. 

The sobering reality is, God doesn't.  He goes straight to the heart...and friends, that is exactly where we should go too, if we have any hopes of becoming like Jesus Christ.  Let's not allow ourselves for even a moment to fall into the traps of religion, or usher others into that same trap.  Let us rejoice in the freedom we have in Christ, and let us rejoice in the freedom others have in Christ. 

It is up to Christ to do the saving work.  It is up to Him to change hearts and lives.  It is up to him to change in us what he sees fit.  So...let's be careful to let Him make those calls, not us. 

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rubbing the Backs of Mean People: On Loving Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-46
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven...If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?"

I was chatting with a sweet mother the other day who told me a story of her 5-year-old.  The 5 year old went up to her and out of nowhere began rubbing her back affectionately and said, "Mommy, I love you".  The mom looked at her daughter a bit surprised and wondered, "Thanks honey, what made you say that to mommy?"  To which the daughter replied, "In Sunday School we learned that Jesus says to love people who are mean to you."  The little girl had had one too many time outs that week!

It's amazing the things one can learn from the innocent bluntness of children.  They have a tendency to say it like it is.  But as much as this story made me laugh, it also gave me a lot to think about.  For me, it's not always as simple as affectionately rubbing the back of the one I am in disagreement with, much less my enemy.

I suppose the word "enemy" might be a strong word.  I mean, in this day and age we don't go around calling people our enemies...well, maybe some of us do.  But all in all, what it comes down to on a day to day basis is that there are people in our lives who tend to irritate and grate on us.  Their voices, their mannerisms, their opinions.  They may be people who have deeply hurt or wounded us.  People who have belittled or degraded us.  People who have put themselves on pedestals and taken advantage of their role in our lives.

Either way, one thing is for sure: most of us are far from loving our enemies.  If by love Jesus meant talking about them, avoiding them, and feeling negatively toward them, than sure...maybe we do love them, and we love them well.  

But if by love, Jesus meant considering them first, building them up, going out of our way to be pleasant and kind, lifting them up in our prayers and proverbially "affectionately rubbing their backs"....then I must say, I have quite a long way to go.  It's a difficult task, this loving thing.  Like Jesus said, it's so much easier to love the people who are easy to love.  But at the end of the day, if we're honest with ourselves we'll realize that none of us really deserve love...

I'm so grateful Jesus didn't do the same as me when it comes to love.  I'm thankful He chose to love people who are irritating, difficult, unfaithful and mean like me.  I'm thankful that He sees past the negative things in my life and comes to my side to love this sinner in a fierce way.  I'm so thankful for that kind of love, and I am challenged by it.

Today, may we take the time to swallow our pride and bite our tongues as we learn to love the people that God has put in our lives.  Even the mean ones...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I am ?: On Identity

Exodus 33:15-16
If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?

They say mankind's greatest fear is the fear of being invisible.  I think that's why the word Identity is such an important concept in our world.  It's a commonly used word in our society.  It's the very thing that defines us as individuals and keeps us from being invisible.  It's the very thing that sets us apart.

Some would say they are comfortable in the identities they've developed.  Others are still on the search for theirs.  Yet others are facing their identities with utter identity crisis so to speak.

But what exactly is an identity, and how does one go about getting such a thing?  According to the definition, identity is a simple thing: who you are.  A simple definition for such a complex word.

Society gives us so much to define ourselves by: external appearances probably top the chart.  With shows like Extreme Makeover and Americas Next Top Model filling our brains with empty definitions of self.  Academics and degrees fall next in line (for those of us who don't have the looks...).  Finances and material things line our homes and our offices (For those of us who don't have the looks or the brains...).  There's always something.  Something to define ourselves by.  Something to distinguish us from the rest of the world. 

When I think of my own identity there are so many things that come to my mind.  I think of my gender...I'm pretty darn proud of being a woman.  I think of my ethnicity and my cultural background.  I think of my faith, my relationship with God.  I think of my roles as a wife, a daughter, and a sister.  I think of my job as a counselor and my duty to my patients.  It's a kaleidoscope of things, each adding a little color to who I believe I how I define myself.

So, with such a conglomeration of things adding to "who I am" can easily understand why this passage left me speechless.

In the midst of Moses begging God's presence to remain with him, he pleaded with Him by asking: God if you leave..."What else will distinguish me?"

It's as if Moses was saying, God, if you don't come with me, if your presence is not surrounding me....what will define me then?  Who will I be?  What will become of me?  You see, for Moses, his very being was so completely wrapped up in God's presence in his life....there was nothing apart from that.  If God were to leave his side, he literally believed that he would have absolutely nothing else to distinguish him from the rest of the world.  He was desperate to find himself in nothing else but God's presence.

You know, there's something refreshing about that kind of identity.  I suppose it's why Moses is cited to be the most humble man alive.  His very existence revolved wholly around God, there was no part of it left for himself.

I'm challenged by that kind of identity.  An identity that finds it's home in the presence of the Almighty.  An identity that has nothing to do with the things that I make of myself and everything to do with the things God does with me.  An identity that is wrapped up so tightly in God's presence that I find myself in crisis apart from it.  An identity that defines itself by that alone.

It's seems as though I've tried to distinguish myself with so many things.  I've tried to keep myself from being invisible.  And you know, sometimes that works for a while.  Sometimes I can feel pretty good about who I am to others and who I have presented myself to be.

But at the end of the day, even with the most glamorous definition of myself...looking through the kaleidoscope of who I am is not enough.  At the end of the day, I need something deeper, something realer, something more substantial than that.  At the end of the day, I need to quench my fear of being invisible by the reality of being seen by my God.

Because, at the end of the day, the only thing that can satisfy my need to be distinguished and recognized is this one thing: His presence in my life.  His plans and purposes for me.  His vision for my future.  His definition of who I am....who I am in Him.  For here, I am 100% exposed and I am no longer invisible...I can never be.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Love Like A Hurricane: On God's Blessings

John 1:16
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 

One blessing after another.  That is exactly how I have felt about the past 4 months.  In a sense, I am embarrassed by such blessings because I know with all my heart that I have done nothing to deserve them.  Yet, in spite of me, God keeps pouring down His blessings because of who He is. 

Sometimes the blessings have been overwhelming...beyond my imagination.  God has provided for us in ways we never could have comprehended.  I've thought to myself many times this year, "Lord, this is way too much..."  Sometimes the blessings have come in small ways, like the beautiful first movements of the baby inside of me.  Either way, I have found it difficult to accept His blessings, to know how to respond. 

Many times, I have felt the loss for words in Psalm 139:6 that says, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain".  It's hard to grasp. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around these things. 

I could sit here all day and count the blessings that God has poured on me and my husband this year...but I won't, because at the end of the day, this has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Him.  Why would a God so great find me worth it to pour down His love, to lavish His blessings to the point where I am blushing? 

Because of His love.  Sometimes it's hard for me to fathom His love.  It's hard to understand that such a great God looks down upon me, knows my name, knows my needs, knows the details of my heart, knows what will bring me joy, what will make me smile.  But the truth of the matter is, He knows.  He loves me so intimately and so genuinely.  He longs to pour His blessings on me because of His love. 

One of my favorite songs describes such an intimate love by saying "Love like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy". 

Today, I challenge you to take some time to listen to this song....I challenge you to take the time to take a look into your own life, and count your blessings.  They are there.  No matter what you are going through, no matter what your circumstances are today, God's blessings are there.  In huge ways or in small.  They are there, and they are overwhelming if you will give yourself over to them.  Today, allow yourself to bask in His love, more so, to drown in His love.  To feel His love for you, and to respond to such a beautiful, marvelous love. 

A love undeserved.  A love to lofty for us to attain.  A love that can only come from the source of Love himself.  Thank you Lord, for such a love.